The majority of the land between the lakeshore and the wall of the Great Rift Valley is dominated by acacia woodlands. Especially common is the flat topped, or umbrella, acacia tree that extends its leafy sunshade over the star grass that carpets the ground below. Also prominent are the stately tamarind and sausage trees, rising up with regal presence. This habitat is favored by a wide variety of herbivores for the generous shade and food these trees provide.
Giraffe can be seen gliding through the gnarled treetops, casually browsing the twisted thorny branches with purposeful care. Impala are also commonly seen here, delicately picking their way through the undergrowth and pausing nervously at the slightest suspicion of danger. Squads of banded mongoose scurry through clearings in the underbrush. Keep your eye open for leopards; although rare, it is possible to see these aristocratic cats lounging in the treetops - clothed in a camouflage attire of spots that blend perfectly with the dappled sunlight of leafy branches.
In every tour and guide book you will undoubtedly find a description of Lake Manyara that references 'the famous tree climbing lions'. Most of these publications and write- ups seem to indicate that Manyara is a very special place as you can easily see these rare tree-climbing lions. It is true that there are lions in Manyara and they have been known to climb trees. However, this behavior is not special or endemic to Manyara. Lions are commonly seen climbing trees in both the Serengeti and Tarangire. Additionally, lions in Lake Manyara are generally very difficult to spot. The truth is that you will generally have a better chance of seeing lions in trees in the Serengeti as opposed to Lake Manyara. It is thought that tree climbing behavior may be related to the avoidance of parasites and diseases from biting insects and wet and muddy conditions on the ground.
Throughout the acacia woodlands you will see a beautiful species of gardenia, otherwise known as Jove's Thunderbolt tree. The waxy white flowers of Jove's Thunderbolt have a sweet fragrance that hangs heavily in the air around the trees, and the peculiar ridged fruit this tree produces is a special delicacy to elephants. The specific name of Jove's Thunderbolt tree is based on an ancient Angolan belief that the tree provides protection from lightning, although it is not clear why.
Large areas of shrubland are also common here, including the bright green Toothbrush Tree and Grey-leaved Cordia which rarely exceed three meters in height. The prickly thickets of this shrubland are the favorite hangout of the small but charming dik-dik, a tiny antelope that finds protection in the thorny bush.
Elephants commonly trump through these thickets and woodlands, fanning themselves with their giant Africa-shaped ears. In fact, Lake Manyara boasts one of the highest elephant concentrations in all of Africa. In their book Among the Elephants , Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton document their historical writings of these giant beasts. Among the Elephants details the first long-term study of elephants in the wild, and this study was conducted in Lake Manyara National Park. Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton spent several years living in Lake Manyara and gradually became accepted by many of Manyara's estimated 600 elephants. Elephant behavior and biology are discussed in detail along with Iain and Oria's adventures in Manyara as they become intertwined in the trials and tribulations of various resident elephant families. This pioneering field study is a must read for any elephant enthusiast and will greatly increase your enjoyment when elephant watching in Lake Manyara National Park.
Throughout this area you are bound to see the handy work of the resident carpenters in the area, otherwise known as termites. The towering forts erected by these industrious little insects are quite impressive, especially when one considers how the scale of one of these structures may exceed the tallest building made by man, when considering the size of the builders. These palatial homes are quite sophisticated, and the societies of termites that team within them are quite complex. Temperature and humidity are kept at a constant level through a multifaceted system of galleries, an "air conditioning system" of sorts. Termite family members are divided into castes of Queen, King, Soldiers and Workers. The Queen is much larger than all the other members of the colony, and may grow to be as large as your index finger. She is a busy girl may lay as many as 10,000 eggs in a single day. During the wet season, many winged termites may leave the colony in the hopes of starting a family of their own. Most of these hopefuls will be eaten by birds or lizards, and only a few lucky couples will manage to find an underground shelter where they can start a new life together and a brand new colony will begin.